More Than The Game
Inside The Extensive World of a League of Legends UX Designer
Five years ago I didn’t know one could be a UX designer for a video game. I’d read plenty about UX for web and mobile, but next to nothing about gaming, so I just assumed that any UX work there had to mean creating in-game overlays, menu screens, some user testing, and probably lots of website design. Most of the design work had to go to game designers: people well-versed in creating characters, levels, or art and figuring out the killer game play mechanics — you know, all the cool stuff.
But five years ago, I was on the outside looking in.
As someone who’s been in the gaming industry since 2011, I now see a different world: a world that is diverse, rich, and full of UX challenges, yet lacking in UX designers. I belief this lack may be due to a perception that there isn’t much of a place for UX designers in gaming — a perception I’d like to help change.
With this mind, I’d like to give you a look inside the ever-expanding world of League of Legends through the eyes of a UX designer.
A bit of context
For those who don’t know, League of Legends is an online video game, played on personal computers. It is essentially “capture the flag”: one team of five players attempts to take over the base of another team of five players. Though the basic idea is simple, mastery is difficult and competition fierce.
Each player chooses a character (“champion”) with a unique set of abilities to fulfill a specific role for their team. Along with waves of computer-controlled “minions”, each team attacks the enemy’s players, minions, and defenses, fighting their way across a map until one team wins. Games happen in real-time and typically last 35–45 minutes.
Playing the game, however, is a small part of a much larger core experience.
The core experience
To play League of Legends, you must install the desktop app (“the client”). The client launches the game, keeps the game patched, and helps players stay updated on League news and promotions. Social features keep players connected to their friends and clubs. The store helps players purchase in-game content and collection tools let them manage those purchases.
When a player decides to play, they choose from a set of maps, modes, and queue types. A special mode (“Rotating Game Mode”) regularly offers new ways to play. Advanced players can choose to play a highly competitive mode (“ranked”) that includes a champion-focused draft pick process. Players can play with friends or alone and a matchmaking process assembles teams of similarly skilled players.
During a game, players keep informed by using a “heads-up display” (HUD), which includes a map with current player locations, a scoreboard, and other information. An options menu allows them to customize HUD, volume, or other settings. Text chat and player generated map cues (“pings”) help teams coordinate.
At the end of a game, players can review post-game stats of both teams. If someone showed bad behavior during the match, players can report them; if someone was a great teammate, they can be “honored”. Players can also send gifts.
Across all these features, designers have to consider concepts that may be foreign to many environments, such as mastery, sportsmanship, and teamwork, plus a healthy amount of arcane knowledge.
Many of features currently in our client were not originally part of it, but have been added and modified over time. Some were integrated pretty hastily, which has led to a fair amount of tech and design debt that we’re still paying off. Much like an operating system, it’s a living, breathing space, where at any time various teams may be creating whole new features that ideally work seamlessly together.
It’s a complicated environment where there are still many difficult problems to solve, but it’s an environment where UX designers can have a direct influence.
Outside of the client, there is a large ecosystem of sites and apps that offer a wide variety of content and services. Here are a just few examples:
The primary website of LoL and where the game is downloaded. Provides information on the game, news archives, and access to many (but not all) sites within the network.
Focused on the League Championship Series (LCS) and Esports. Provides news, match summaries, player and team information, broadcasts of competitions from our own studios and live events, and access to many related websites.
The official League of Legends mobile app. Helps players stay connected with their LoL friends when they’re away from their computers.
Community self-regulation tool. When players have been reported a substantial number of times, other eligible players can review their cases and vote whether the player should be punished or pardoned.
Riot Games Merch
Online store for physical merchandise.
In addition to these, there are dozens of smaller sites for player support, server status, short-term events, college programs, viewing parties, and much more. For the sake of brevity, I’m excluding all the third-party services that augment what we create, although these services are often considerations.
Because of the sheer number and diverse needs of all these websites, creating, connecting, and maintaining them is a huge challenge, but one that should be familiar to most UX designers. The spectating experiences of Esports (live, web, and TV) are probably not as familiar a space, but again one where UX designers can contribute.
What do you think?
Amazon.com was originally an online book store that now offers an incredible variety of products and even sells its own physical devices. The ecosystem of League of Legends has evolved in a similar way and the problems are sometimes at a similar scale. As League has grown, a surprising number of features, services, and systems were needed to expand and improve the overall experience; at this point, the game itself is just a small — though crucial — part of it. And more features will come.
Video games have always been on the cutting edge of technology and the expectations and challenges will only continue to increase. From ecommerce to Esports, from broadband limitations to broadcast television, there are plenty of tasty problems, big and small for a UX designer to help solve in the game industry.
Additionally, UX designers can learn a lot from gaming about creating immersive, engaging, social experiences on multiple platforms (desktop, mobile, consoles, etc). Some spaces that UX is only now beginning to get into, game designers have been in for decades — and vice versa. Game design and UX have a lot of common ground and much they can teach each other.
Five years on the inside has shown me that there are tremendous opportunities for UX designers to bring their wide-range of skills and design methods to the rich world of online video games. In another five years, there will likely be even more opportunities and even more complex challenges.
If you haven’t already, I encourage you take a close look at the game industry. We could really use you. There’s a lot of work to do.